That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful of every good work, and INCREASING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. Col 1:10
The knowledge of God lies at the foundation of all true religion. It is the want or indistinctness of this knowledge that occasions all the stupidity of sinners and all the false hopes of professing Christians; that produces most of the religious errors which abound in the world; that causes so much superficial, proud, worldly religion even among the sincere, and so little religion even among judicious Christians. Although this most precious of all knowledge is open to all, yet there is very little of it in the world,—very little of it in the church of Christ. There is so much unbelief and aversion to God, so much pride and worldliness, so much guilt that shrinks from clear views of God, so much sluggishness which binds the soul to earth, that the mass even of Christians pass to the grave with a very incompetent knowledge of God. Even their serious thoughts linger too much on earth. Their religious knowledge and conversation are too confined to subordinate subjects; and in their very prayers, their eyes are apt to be more intensely fixed on the blessings they ask or the sins they deplore, than on the face of God himself.
Now and then a Christian arises who outstrips the piety of his contemporaries, and stands a luminary to enlighten and to be admired by remote generations. If you search for the cause of his pre-eminent piety, it is to be found in his superior knowledge of God. Desirous to see a greater number of eminent Christians formed, and to witness the prevalence of that religion which is enlightened, judicious, and humble; I am anxious to press upon my hearers, to press upon my brethren in the church, to press upon my own soul, the study of God.
The knowledge which I would recommend, though it includes the speculation of the understanding, is not confined to it. It consists in a clear discernment of God’s spiritual glory and in a holy intimacy with him; which can be obtained neither by a speculative knowledge without right affections, nor yet by warm affections without deep and extensive knowledge.
In general it may be observed that the great end for which men were sent into the world was to learn the character of their Maker, by studying his glories in his works and word that they might obey and enjoy him. The great end which God had in view in all his works was to make an illustrious display of his perfections, that creatures might know him and be united to him in sublime and everlasting communion.
All things which are proposed as objects of our belief or knowledge, are but one complicated lesson of God which we were sent into the world to learn. The vast and interesting object on which his divine eye is immovably fixed, and which in the progress of time he will fully attain, is to fill the world,—the universe,—with the knowledge of his glory. He declared to Moses, “As truly as I live all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” The harp of prophecy awoke to rapture on this delightful theme. Isaiah struck the note, and Habakkuk triumphantly resounded, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The object of the whole creation will not be lost; creatures shall know him.
The end for which human beings were placed on this earth will be attained: it must be that men shall know their God,—know him in a far greater measure than they have done in past ages. The times are rolling on,—the light is bursting from a thousand sources,—the world will be flocking to the great display,—all nations will be in motion. Arise ye and join them, and hasten to the knowledge of God. Come, for it is the end of all things, and it is the end of your creation.
Further, God is the being with whom we have the most intimate and interesting connexion; and therefore we ought certainly, and it chiefly concerns us, to become acquainted with him. He is the being with whom we chiefly have to do in time and eternity. It is in him that we live and move and have our being, and he will be our final Judge. He is the author of all our comforts on earth; and he will be to eternity either the author and object of our whole enjoyment or the executioner of his wrath upon us.
Should it not be a chief desire to get acquainted with the benefactor who has sent all our comforts to us for so many years, and with the fearful Name on which all our future destinies depend? Shall a man be anxious to see the generous stranger who once relieved his wants, or the relation in a foreign country who is to make him his heir? and shall we be indifferent to an acquaintance with our God?
Further, there is room for far more enlarged knowledge of God than any of us have yet acquired. In the recesses of his nature are laid up treasures of knowledge which eternal research will not exhaust. None but he who from eternity lay in his bosom could with perfect propriety say, I know thee. In this world, the best of Christians see through a glass darkly, and know but in part what they were destined to know. Agur found reason in his humility to complain, “I neither learned wisdom nor have the knowledge of the Holy.” The apostle Paul, after having spoken of the primitive Christians as knowing God, thought proper to correct the expression as being too strong: “But now after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God.” This distinction is made by the same apostle in another place: “If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know; but if any man love God, the same is known of him.”
The lowest degree of perfect knowledge is reserved for heaven: “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Our knowledge of God will at best continue imperfect “till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” There is therefore abundant room for the most enlightened Christians to increase in the knowledge of God, and to plunge deeper and still deeper into this ocean without a bottom or a shore.
What a call then for christians of ordinary attainments to stir up their sluggish spirits, to clear away the mist from their eyes, that they may gaze with more intenseness upon God,—that they may study him with deeper scrutiny and contemplate him with clearer discernment.
Several motives to this have already been presented. What remains is to show that a clear knowledge and discernment of God is of all things the most purifying, the most humbling, the most exalting, the most happy.
I. It is the most purifying.
A sight of God is transforming. It is only when “with open face” we behold “as in a glass the glory of the Lord,” that we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory.” A view of God shining “in the face of Jesus Christ,” is the faith which purifies the heart and produces good works. When God is seen in all the majesty of his glory, in the awful purity of his holiness, the Christian cannot, dare not willfully sin. He has a holy jealousy of himself; he dreads the least movement of unhallowed affections, the least hypocrisy in his devotions, and towards men is meek, gentle, and affectionate. He pants after universal purity with groanings that cannot be uttered.
This is the faith “which worketh by love,”—by deep and fervent love: and it is love only that can purify the soul. Under the influence of these views the christian knows what it is to be moved to action by the love of God in Christ, and can draw from God all his motives to active service and holy living. He feels it reasonable to dedicate himself forever to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and longs to employ all his faculties to the glory of his heavenly Father.
This is the faith which overcomes the world. Riches, honors, the world are dead. The Christian can now view things precisely in the light that Paul did when he counted all things but loss in comparison with the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Such a view of God in Christ will do more to purify the soul from sin and to guard it against temptation, than the most refined knowledge of subordinate subjects in religion,—than all systematic proficiency,—than gazing forever at the outside of the temple without looking within. It will do more than all prayers, and means, and exertions which are not accompanied with these direct views; for nothing but direct views can produce love. A raging fire is not extinguished by beating the flame, but by a plentiful application of the opposite element. And the fire of lust and passion is not to be subdued by human efforts directly applied; it yields only to the love of God,—love which nothing but direct views of him can excite. These views are of more efficacy to cleanse the soul than all the glooms of guilt.
It is a mistake to calculate on purifying the heart by confining our views to ourselves and our sins, and plunging into darkness to avoid being proud of our comfort. One such view of God as saints enjoy in heaven, is a greater defence against sin than all the glooms of hell. Hence we read of escaping “the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” and are exhorted to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.”
Our text connects a fruitfulness “in every good work” with “increasing in the knowledge of God;” and Peter speaks of eminent Christians not being “barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The want of this knowledge is made a distinctive mark of slaves to sin, and a profession of this knowledge is counted for a profession of purity: “Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some, [does he say that they are slaves to sin? no, but he says the same thing in other words; for some] have not the knowledge of God.” “They profess to know God, but in works they deny him,” and prove by their sins that they know him not.
Would you then make greater advances in grace? Would you escape the sins and overcome the temptations which cause you so much distress? Would you attain to a more heavenly mind and wear forever a brighter crown? There is but one way;—you must increase in the knowledge of God.
II. This knowledge is the most humbling of all things.
Other knowledge “puffeth up,” but the more God is seen the more abased the soul will be. All the glooms of guilt, all the fears of hell, all the views of sin which are not accompanied with a spiritual discernment of God, will not humble the soul. These all exist in hell, but there is no humility there. The most just and exquisite sense of sin is acquired by considering, not so much what we have done, as what God is. A discovery of his awful dignity and excellent holiness reveals the evil of sinning against him, and lays the penitent soul speechless at his feet. When we can perceive God to be so holy and glorious that a bare neglect to love him would deserve eternal woe, and that no conceivable punishment is great enough for the wretch that dares rebel against him; when with spiritual discernment we contemplate God turning the angels out of heaven for sin, turning Adam out of Eden, turning a beautiful world into a prison house of groans, a shambles of blood, turning millions into hell, and more than all, thrusting his sword through the heart of his own Son; then we discover, in a light unknown before, what sin deserves and what we are; and lifting a pleading eye to Jesus, we lay ourselves down in the dust to wonder at the patience and mercy of God.
No flights of soul are felt, but a heavenly calm. Animal feelings lie still and overawed. All is silent wonder and complacency; not a passion, but a solid reality of feeling; not a tender tumult of animal nature, but something like the clear vision of the soul. While the religion of the animal affections inflates the soul with self-conceit, this is the surest death of pride and every evil passion. Instead of making comparisons in his own favor, the christian now thinks himself a barenaked nothing before God, and wonders that such a being should set his love on him. The more he feels his guilt, the more happy his humbled spirit is; for guilt brings a sense of the precious mercy of his God and Saviour; and he now perceives, what to some may seem a paradox, that if a sense of guilt were banished from heaven, much of the happiness of heaven would be banished with it.
While he thus lies in the dust, gazing upon the face of God, he forgets to make calculation for his own character, and thinks not so much what he is or is to be, as what God is. He would rather enjoy the light of heaven in retirement, unknowing and unknown, than without this to be arrayed in imperial purple. He feels indifferent to human distinctions, and has no present necessity to guard against the fear of man. He is now conscious of the impenetrable fortitude which disinterested humility can produce. With all his views, he is sensible that he yet sees but a glimpse of God, feels guilty for the want of clearer apprehensions, fears the loss of the little sense he has, and pants earnestly after more.
Such a glimpse of God had Job when all his glory fell and withered in the dust. No sooner had God spoken from the whirlwind, than he laid himself on his face and meekly said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
When Elijah was in Horeb, neither the “great and strong wind” that “rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks,” nor yet the “earthquake” nor the “fire,” could move him; but when the “still small voice” came, diffusing through his soul a sense of God, instantly he wrapped his blushing face in his mantle.
When Isaiah saw “the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up, and his train” filling “the temple,” and the seraphim crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts,” and “the posts of the door” moving at the sound of their voice; then it was that he exclaimed, “Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; [how did he discover this?] for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”
When Peter discovered the Godhead of Christ shining gloriously through the man, he instantly fell at his feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
When Daniel, Ezekiel and John, had visions of God, though it was but a glimpse that they saw, they fell on their faces and became as dead men.
Thus it appears that a sight of God has the greatest power to abase the creature. If then you wish the haughtiness of your heart reduced, the torment of your pride relieved, and would enjoy the luxury of an humble mind, you must increase in the knowledge of God.
III. This knowledge, at the same time that it is the most humbling, is the most exalting.
One such view as Moses had, will raise the soul above the world and lift it to heaven. It will do more than all other views to ennoble the mind, to elevate it above the vulgar pursuits of men, and make it conversant with the skies. If it is a dignity to be intimately acquainted with great men, what is the dignity of knowing and being known of God? It is the most noble and sublime knowledge, and worthy of the most aspiring desires of the immortal mind.
IV. This knowledge brings with it the greatest happiness.
One direct view of God fills the soul with greater peace than the most splendid attainments in the subordinate branches of divine knowledge,—than the most extensive acquaintance with human science,—than all the glories of the world. Such is the nature of God, and such is the nature of man, that nothing in heaven or earth can fill the human soul with peace and joy, and satisfy its immortal cravings, but the knowledge and enjoyment of God. This is to be the happiness of heaven, because nothing greater can be provided for creatures. When the glories of God break upon the soul, peace descends upon it like “the dew of Hermon;” all its disturbing passions are still; it feels not the uneasiness of one unsatisfied desire. God reigns,—God is in its view,—God is its portion, and it is enough. It enjoys a peace which passeth understanding. Bright are its mornings, calm its noons, and serene its nights.
When the ardent Peter cast an affectionate eye upon the churches, he would breathe no wish more fervent than that “grace and peace” might “be multiplied unto” them “through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Let the race of men then return from their idle pursuits, and know that the shortest and only road to happiness is found. Here is the great secret discovered which men have searched for in every land, and roved to seek in the ends of the earth.
These direct views of God, and none but these, can bless the soul with “the full assurance of hope.” The lower exercises of religion cannot do it. Self examination, without these direct views, cannot do it. But under these open views, the christian is conscious of taking firm hold of God in Christ, and knows that there is not a phantom in his embrace, but the very God of Israel. He sees him to be a solid rock, and knows that he rests his soul on him and cannot sink. He is conscious of believing in him, and trusts in the divine word that he shall be accepted and kept to the heavenly kingdom. His former hopes, which arose from tender meltings of soul, were feeble and wavering; but now his hope is a solid thing, excited by an open view of the fulness and faithfulness of God in Christ. He can now lift an unpresuming eye to heaven and call it all his own. He can gaze at the throne of God which once rocked with thunders, and see no terrors there.
With lips trembling with gratitude and eyes suffused with tears, he can look up and call the Almighty God his father, and the blessed Jesus his Saviour and his brother. Standing on the summit of Pisgah and stretching his eyes over his inheritance, he rejoices “with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” This is the blessed consequence of “increasing in the knowledge of God.” “Acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace; thereby good shall come unto thee.”
Suffer me now, my dear hearers, to bring these several arguments to bear on the single point, and to press you with their united force to devote yourselves to the study of God, and to earnest exertions after more clear and spiritual views of him.
My first address shall be to professing christians. By all the motives which have been presented, I pray you, my brethren, not to rest satisfied with superficial knowledge, nor with enlarged knowledge of subordinate branches of christian science; but seek earnestly to obtain a deep and spiritual discernment of God. Rest not contented with the name and profession of christians. Rest not contented with a few serious thoughts, added to a cold round of external duties, while your minds remain confused on every elevated point of religious truth. Think it not enough that you can weep at a description of Christ’s sufferings, without understanding the designs of his death or discerning the glories of the way of salvation by him. Seek to know more of the vast designs which God is carrying into execution in the government of the world. Strive to add to systematic knowledge, clear views of the glory of God in all his works and ways. When you open your bibles, let it be with earnest desires to find something that shall give you a greater insight into the character of God and the wonders of redemption. When you open any other religious book, let it not be to amuse yourselves with the beauties of the style, nor to obtain mere systematic knowledge, nor to produce a general indiscriminate impression of seriousness; but to obtain, if possible, clearer and more extensive views of God.
When you enter the house of God, let it not be to gratify curiosity, nor to conform to fashion, nor merely from a general wish to perform a duty; but always come with a prayer on your tongue that you may behold the glory of God in the sanctuary, and carry away some enlarged views of his perfections. When you hold religious conversation with your christian friends, let it not be to hear yourselves talk, and to indulge the common loquaciousness of empty minds, nor to display your zeal, nor to enjoy the pleasure of being moved yourselves or moving others to weep, nor even for the sake of the mere satisfaction of spending a serious hour; but let your object be to obtain and communicate a more distinct and affecting knowledge of God.
When you kneel to pray, let it always be with an intense desire to obtain clearer views of God, and to arise more deeply impressed with a sense of his glorious attributes. In the time of prayer, keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on God, and let all the efforts of your devotion be to look further and still further into the immeasurable heights of his perfections. Let this be the object of all your serious meditations and of all your religious duties.
Such a course, persisted in with sincerity and ardor, could not fail to raise you to the rank of eminent Christians. If you would faithfully make the experiment for a single year, you would see what a great difference it would make in your graces and comforts. And I will venture to predict with confidence, that you will never grow in grace in any other way, and that you will grow in grace exactly in proportion as you sincerely pursue this course. You never will become eminent Christians on easier terms. Will you then set out in this course, and holding on your way with unwearied zeal, aspire to eminence in piety? Why should you not become distinguished Christians? Why should you not aim at the eminence of Enoch and Moses and David and Elijah? The same God that raised them so high still reigns, and is accessible to you.
You may go to that exhaustless store-house and take as much as you please. Why benumb every effort by the miserable calculation that you cannot attain such eminence? Who told you so but your own sluggish hearts? The grace and power of God are open to you, and if you fall short of that superior height the fault will be your own. If you are straitened, you are not straitened in God but in yourselves. Will you then arise from your sluggish repose and march manfully toward the mark, and resolve to die stretching with all your might to outstrip the piety of the prophets?
Alas, the world draws so powerfully that I fear few will be excited to such noble calculations. In the present rage for gain and distinction, the mass of professors seem determined not to be encumbered with more religion than will allow them to take the world along with them to heaven. How few there are that aspire to more religion than just enough to keep them out of hell. It is not a day to form many eminent Christians. It is a day of too much prosperity and worldly attachment. The times of persecution and ancient simplicity could produce a Flavel and a Baxter and a thousand others, inferior only to them. But where are the Baxters and Flavels of the present day? Prosperity has weakened our strength, and the world has bound us fast, and here we sleep in ignoble sloth, and exist only to shame our fathers and contaminate our children.
In the name of God, my brethren, awake and move towards heaven. Rend the veil from your eyes, tear the world from your hearts, and arise to life and to action. Must I return and make the complaint to him who sent me, that they will not hear? While I speak thus to you, my dear brethren, I reprove myself. I have reason to bow under the humiliating thought that I too have little knowledge or sense of God. To whom then shall we all apply? Who shall give us and a sleeping world a clearer discovery of God? He, he only, can pluck the film from our eyes and pour his glories upon our astonished sight. O that he would come forth and force himself upon our view. O that he would speak, and shake a drowsy world from their sleep, and show them what a God there is that ruleth in the earth.
One word to impenitent sinners and I have done.
Have you no desire, my unhappy friends, to know that God in whose presence you must shortly stand, whose hand must measure out your rewards or smite you with his thunders? Did you never read that “the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God?” You are they that know not God; and in this state you are fast approaching the judgment of the great day; and here you are sleeping in dreadful security! God Almighty awaken you from the slumbers of your destruction!
Do you begin to awake? Do you wish to find the knowledge of God? Shall I tell you how you can be so blest? “If thou criest after knowledge and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver and searchest for her as for hidden treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” I can say no more. I deliver you over into the hands of divine grace, and pray “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” Amen.
Edward D. Griffin, Sermons by the Late Rev. Edward D. Griffin, D.D., (Albany: Van Benthuysen & Co., 1838), 1:273–289.